Top Ten Caribbean Works of Fiction (again)

So there's now an interesting exchange going on in the comments of Geoffrey's post, where the fundamental question of how to choose the top is being debated.Frances-Anne, who, from her reference to Trinidad, isn't likely to be who I thought she might be, says:

1) I resist the idea of "best" in this context (creation) as it reminds me of school in Trinidad "Good better best, never let it rest til we make our good better" that whole anglican ethic of competition and never being good enough, that pit us against each other to be judged by someone called "Cambridge". So I'm suspicious of this judging of "best", who is judging and by what standards?2) as has been reflected above Caribbean literature though in its flowering right now, has not been widely read, so people's choices will be determined not by "best" or even "favorite" but by what was forced on them at school or if they were lucky university. Reducing choices for the most part to Naipaul, Rhys, Lovelace, and Lamming, and only in general one of each of these. Not representative.

It's a basic point, and one well worth debating. But from my point of view, canons start somewhere. At this stage, I believe that we have to start with Naipaul, Rhys, Lovelace and Lamming, just because they are the ones that get forced on us (what about Anthony? What Caribbean schoolchild hasn't read A Year in San Fernando or Green Days by the River -- Cricket in the Road being eschewed by people like us Bahamians, to whom cricket is a foreign language). The fact that we "all" have these four in common makes them representative, and is worth exploration. The questions that follow — why these four? What do they represent? What does their selection tell us? — are equally important, and even fundamental to our understanding of our Selves.What's more, the fact that we have "all" read these writers means that we are all writing in response to, or inspired by, these four. This fact is not incidental, and it's why I support the teaching of Dead White Male writers to people who want to be writers. Because the vast majority of European literature was developed in the shadow of the Bible and Homer and Shakespeare, it is fundamental for people who wish to continue in that mode to read them. For us in the Caribbean who intend to continue working with the written word as word-on-page, they are part of our canon too, or they should be. We can't understand Lamming without knowing Caliban; we can't understand Walcott without understanding Homer; we miss part of Achebe's messages if we are ignorant of Yeats, and we can't even appreciate Brathwaite as we should without a familiarity with Eliot.I believe canons are there to tell us about who we are, what we regard as literature, and — more fundamentally still — to help us understand the others. I don't believe that our oppression should make us ignore them. Know thine enemy makes as much sense today, among us all, as it ever did.